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Bomb damaged remains of St Catherine's Almshouses and chapel and adjacent canon's house, 140m north of the Cathedral

A Scheduled Monument in St David's, Devon

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Latitude: 50.7237 / 50°43'25"N

Longitude: -3.5293 / 3°31'45"W

OS Eastings: 292145.884768

OS Northings: 92684.022692

OS Grid: SX921926

Mapcode National: GBR P1.8SFQ

Mapcode Global: FRA 37H5.8V9

Entry Name: Bomb damaged remains of St Catherine's Almshouses and chapel and adjacent canon's house, 140m north of the Cathedral

Scheduled Date: 8 June 2000

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1019046

English Heritage Legacy ID: 29698

County: Devon

Electoral Ward/Division: St David's

Built-Up Area: Exeter

Traditional County: Devon

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Devon

Church of England Parish: Central Exeter

Church of England Diocese: Exeter


The monument includes the standing remains of the mid-15th century
St Catherine's Almshouses and chapel and an adjacent part of a medieval
canon's house which were badly damaged by German fire-bombing on the night of
May 3rd 1942. The remains stand on the corner of Catherine Street and Chapel
Street about 140m north of Exeter Cathedral, overlying an area rich in Roman
The remains of the almshouses, which are a Listed Building Grade II, have
remained largely untouched since being bomb damaged in World War II, apart
from the tidying-up necessary to convert them into a publicly accessible
memorial. The remains extend some 26m in total from a 10m wide frontage on
Catherine Street to a post-World War II rear boundary wall. The outer walls of
the almshouses survive to the base of first floor level and in some places
higher, and internal room divisions survive as low walls. The chapel, which is
a Listed Building Grade II, has all of its four walls complete and is missing
only its roof; all flooring above ground level has however been destroyed. The
predominant building stone of the almshouses is local Heavitree breccia, which
is a dark red conglomerate, whilst doorway and window mouldings are mostly of
Beer Stone, a pale beige limestone from the East Devon coast. This contrast
between the red and the beige stonework was used to effect by the builders,
notably in the chapel where the Beer Stone bellcote perches above the north
west gable end wall which, apart from window mouldings, is constructed
entirely of breccia. The documentary records of St Catherine's Almshouses have
been studied by local historians and it was established that the almshouses
were endowed by the will of John Stevens in 1460 and, as originally conceived,
the foundation would probably have provided 12 or 13 individual rooms or cells
at ground level together with service rooms, a kitchen, and a garderobe
(stone-built lavatory pit). The separate chapel building, which is surrounded
by a narrow ambulatory, was sub-divided at ground level perhaps to provide a
parlour in addition to the chapel itself. It is considered likely that the
frontage above the forward rooms of the almshouses was given over to a
separate tenement whilst the upper floor of the chapel acted as a common hall
and it had a separate entrance at this level, probably approached by a wooden
stairway and gallery, which was later blocked.
Immediately to the west of the almshouses plot, and included within the
scheduling, are the standing remains and foundations of a large 13th century
hall-house which had been acquired by the Dean and Chapter of Exeter Cathedral
early in its life. Documentary evidence demonstrates that the house was
occupied by successive canons of the cathedral from the last quarter of the
13th century and it remained in ecclesiastical hands until the Reformation.
The house underwent many changes of use since it was first constructed,
including its conversion into the Country House Inn during the post-medieval
period. Despite these later periods of use, the major medieval structural
walls survived largely unaltered until the bombing and the subsequent post-War
clearance when much of the western part of the building was levelled. However,
the easternmost walls survive to a height of about 3m and the kitchen,
buttery, and pantry, together with the foundations for the east end of its
hall were identified in excavation and recording work of the late 1980s.
Several excavations of the immediate post-War period and later have revealed
that the monument stands upon the site of Roman remains. A Roman town house of
the late third to early fourth century was discovered which produced a
corridor mosaic which was lifted and taken to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum
in 1988. At a greater depth, and underlying the town house, are features
relating to the defences of the Roman fortress of the mid-first century AD.
These include sections of two successive defensive ditches of Roman military
character, a turf and clay rampart, and the sunken post-holes of a 3m wide
timber interval tower which originally stood upon the rampart. Modern timber
posts have been inserted into the excavated post-holes of the interval tower
to mark their position.
In the spring of 1942 Exeter was subjected to air bombardment as part of what
became known as the Baedeker Raids after the series of guidebooks. These raids
on historic English cities were ordered by Adolf Hitler personally. Exeter,
with its concentration of historic wooden buildings crowded within a surviving
medieval circuit of walls, was one of the five towns targeted. On April 24th-
25th 1942 German aircraft dropped conventional high explosive bombs on Exeter
but failed to do much damage to the city centre. They returned at midnight on
May 3rd with mainly incendiary bombs, about 8000 of which were estimated to
have been dropped. It was during this raid that major conflagrations took hold
and much of the historic centre of Exeter was burned down and a Georgian
architectural masterpiece, Bedford Circus, was destroyed.
Destruction was widespread along both sides of the High Street and the roofs
and internal fittings of St Catherine's Almshouses and its chapel suffered
heavy damage. The bombing of the almhouses can now be regarded as an integral
part of the monument's history.
All wooden benches and modern surfacing and paving are excluded from the
scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Almshouses, in medieval and early post-medieval times, comprised a suite of
buildings, usually a series of adjoining but self-contained rooms or cells,
generally accompanied by a detached chapel, a common meeting hall, and a
warden's house. Almshouses, as their name suggests were constructed for the
poorest and most needy of their times. The earliest almshouses developed from
medieval hospitals and were often based on the plan of a monastic infirmary
whilst many others were newly built in the later Middle Ages and owed their
foundation to endowments provided by wealthy citizens such as merchants or
tradesmen. Such philanthropic acts were deemed both Christian and worthy, as
the endowment of an almshouse supplied basic shelter, food and security, for a
number of the elderly or the most impoverished men and women of the town.
Although each inmate was provided with an individual room or small house,
these rooms were usually beneath one roof or set in ranges around a courtyard
and communal living was encouraged with meals taken together in the common
room; the community also came together for worship where there was an attached
Although almshouses continued to be built in later post-medieval and modern
times, the emphasis on communal living and prayer diminished. Almshouses,
which generally cater for small groups of individuals, should not be confused
with the charitable housing estates of the 19th and 20th centuries which often
provide a far larger number of properties for families as well as single
people and which have more in common with today's terraced houses.
Medieval and early post-medieval almshouses often survive with their
associated chapel and are usually well known and recognised buildings within a
town or city setting. Detailed documentary records were nearly always kept
which relate to their foundation and upkeep. In addition, almshouses are
particularly worthy of protection as they are frequently largely unaltered
leading to the survival of their architectural detail and structural fabric
and they often retain their original ground plan. Almshouses thus provide
important information on the economic and social history of the medieval and
early post-medieval periods and all those surviving with significant remains
and their plans intact should be considered of national importance.
St Catherine's Almshouses, its chapel, and part of the adjacent medieval
canon's house have been the subject of excavation and recording projects and
documentary research which has provided a wealth of information about the
monument, which also includes the only known bomb damaged buildings in the
city which have not been redeveloped or subjected to extensive clearance.
St Catherine's Almshouses, near the centre of modern Exeter, provides a public
place for rest and reflection and the mixture of local building stones makes
an attractive contrast to the surrounding later architecture.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Rothnie, N, The Baedeker Blitz: Hitler's Attack on Britain's Historic Cities, (1992), 26-48
Fox, A, 'Report and Transactions of the Devonshire Association' in Eighteenth Report of Archaeology and Early History, , Vol. 83, (1951), 36-42
Frere, S S (ed), 'Britannia' in Roman Britain in 1987 I. Sites Explored, , Vol. 19, (1988), 473
Holbrook, N et al, 'Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society' in Roman Mosaics from Catherine Street, Exeter, , Vol. 47, (1989), 43-52
Blaylock, S R, (1999)
Unpublished archive of St Catherine's Almshouses, 1989, Held by Exeter Archaeology

Source: Historic England

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